Let’s say, you’ve been working hard, minding your own business, and suddenly you learn that you’re going to have a new boss. Maybe your old boss is leaving, or perhaps you’ve been reorganized. Whatever the reason for the change, you’re worried — which is both reasonable and practical — about how you and your new boss will get along, whether your work will be disrupted, and if your career will suffer or be supported.
On top of your purely personal concerns, you may also be aware of this surprising statistic: As many as 40 percent of new leaders don’t succeed in their new roles due to a combination of insufficient screening, sloppy onboarding, and inadequate preparation and context-setting by the hiring or promoting manager.
What that means to you is that your new boss may not actually know the components or realities of their new job — or yours — and that they’re unlikely to receive much organizational support for getting up to speed or fitting in. Plus, unfortunately, most new leaders simply don’t know how to get relationships off on the right foot.
How to Help Your New Boss — and Yourself — Succeed
Just as there are things that a new boss should be careful about when starting a new job, here are five things you can do to give your relationship with your new boss the best chance of success.
- Get out of your own head so you can observe closely. Stop thinking it’s all about you, or worrying whether the new boss will like you or hate you. Instead, act like a reasonably good host, and study the new exec as if you’re watching a character in a play. Assess whether this woman’s an analyst, or that guy’s a schmoozer. Learn what they’re like and how they behave.
- Ask your new leader explicitly how they prefer to work. Explain that you’d appreciate knowing their work style likes and dislikes: Do they want daily or emergency communication by email, phone, or text? Do they like one-page executive summaries, full reports, or verbal discussion? Do they prefer daily stand-ups, weekly team meetings, or individual meetings as needed? Commit to delivering everything you can in their preferred mode.
- Focus on collaboration, not critique. Rather than second-guessing your new boss, or behaving clannishly with team members while holding your new boss at arm’s length, look for opportunities to apply their approaches. Instead of being annoyed when they keep talking about “how we did it at my old place,” see what aspects you can adapt. Demonstrate your support and flexibility: “Oh, I see how we can make some of that work here…”
- Teach — unobtrusively — what they need to know to get by. Give examples of important historical and cultural context, share tips for working with their new peers, and note any crucial aspects of the business and industry that may be outside their experience.
- Point out to your colleagues everything that’s good and useful about the new arrival. You don’t have to agree with everything they say or propose, but play up the benefits of the new executive’s approaches, their demeanor, and their access to other networks and expertise. Emphasize whatever might be valuable for your team, and what the upside could be.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that your new leader will turn out to be the boss you’ve always wanted; in fact, they might not even be a reasonably good boss at all. They also may not have the skillset or emotional intelligence to navigate through your organization successfully. Still, it’s worth investing in your own good behavior and a positive relationship from the very beginning because that lets you serve your team and act like a leader yourself. Plus, whether your new boss eventually leaves for greener pastures — or you do — you never know when your paths might cross again.
Onward and upward,